Walter Duranty wouldn’t know what to make of Armando Iannucci’s latest satire.
“The Death of Stalin” showcases a Soviet Union where killing is the norm and citizens cower before the State, The New York Times’ Moscow correspondent, who famously downplayed Stalin’s atrocities, might think the film was Hollywood chicanery at its worst.
It’s merely dialing up the truth to farcical extremes.
“Stalin” skewers the Communist nation so effectively you’ll almost wish Iannucci would give these Comrades a break.
The comic free-for-all introduces us to a cheery Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), breaking bread with his inner circle. The members slavishly kiss up to their leader, hoping to curry favor with the right joke or anecdote.
And what an inner circle it is, featuring cracker jack performers like Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi and the great Michael Palin.
Oh, why doesn’t Palin make more feature films these days?
Only Stalin isn’t long for this mortal coil. He collapses one night and appears to be on death’s door. His cabinet members alternately panic and ponder how they can take power should Stalin remain incapacitated.
They’d call a doctor, but they’ve either killed or imprisoned the best of the best already.
FAST FACT: Stalin ruled the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. During that time he oversaw the death of anywhere between 8 and 20 million people.
Writer/director Armando Iannucci (“Veep,” “In the Loop”) is in his element here, savaging both poltiical dysfunction and the insanity of the Soviet Union. It’s double and triple talk, couched with a “love” for the State and an eye on advancement at all costs.
It’s exhilitaring at times, even if the narrative doesn’t quite sustain the whimsy. There’s always a great slab of dialogue to bring us back in, or an extraordinary bout of profanity.
Some comedies wield curses like cudgels. Iannucci finds their awkward beauty, transforming them into poetic bouts of fury.
That isn’t the film’s trickiest stunt.
It takes a nimble comic mind to draw laughs from a land where innocents are roused from their sleep and killed. Some “Stalin” sequences are jarring, no matter how light the touch in play. This is a horror comedy at its core, with plenty of bloodshed between the bureaucratic madness.
You can’t see humans taken out without a second’s thought and not mentally take a knee. The story swiflty returns to blissful farce, though, revealing the Stalin legacy for all to see.
It’s double and triple talk, couched with a “love” for the State and an eye on advancement at all costs.
“The Death of Stalin” is most effective at revealing the political mind at its very worst. Yes, these bumbling Comrades are part of a death cult disguised as a government. We still recognize the bruised egos and career climbing antics.
We laugh, and wince, with every revelation. That makes “Stalin” both an exagerrated time capsule and a cautionary tale for anyone taking politicians too seriously.
HiT or Miss: Miss the good old days of farcical comedy? “The Death of Stalin” brings the genre roaring back to life.